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Uplifting views of caring adults

At The Skillman Foundation, we think and talk about young people constantly. What opportunities do young people want and need? What is working in our youth-serving systems that supports young people to achieve their greatest aspirations and what may be getting in the way? How are young people doing? 

And yet, amidst this most immediate focus on young people, we are also keenly aware of the important roles of caring adults. We have heard repeatedly just how instrumental one teacher, coach, or mentor can be in a young person’s life. And we know that parents and caregivers—often the most central adult figures in young people’s lives—are instrumental in their success stories. The pandemic laid bare the pressures and demands on parents and caregivers and made increasingly clear that the adults in young people’s lives must also be heard and supported. 

As part of president & CEO Angelique Power‘s listening tour, we recently met with a group of leaders from organizations who work with parents—many of whom are parents themselves—to listen and learn. 

What should we know about Detroit parents? What are their excitements and concerns? How should we and other funders support parents? This is what we heard. 

Detroit parents are incredible, yet often unheard and unseen 

Illustration by Miranda Kyle

Detroit parents are resilient, righteous, real, gritty, passionate, assertive, stubborn, smart, innovative, creative, persistent, loving, savvy navigators, advocates. This is just a sampling of the responses evoked when we asked what we should know about Detroit parents. One participant noted that parents are “the epitome and backbone of everything we love about Detroit” while another said, “Detroit parents are the heartbeat of the city and can your biggest ally or your biggest frenemy.” 

These reflections stand in stark contrast, though, to how Detroit parents are perceived, especially by those in positions of power. The parent leaders we spoke to agreed that parents in Detroit are often unheard and unseen. They may be perceived as ignorant or incompetent, unable to make decisions for themselves. These narratives and mindsets must shift and do not reflect the diversity and brilliance of the parents with whom the listening session participants interact every day. 

Parents want opportunities to lead the change they want to see 

The parent organization leaders with whom we spoke were clear that at present, not enough opportunities are available for parents to offer their input on decisions that are being made that affect young people and their families, such as return to school plans amidst the pandemic. In many instances, it seems as though parent voices and perspectives are welcomed after plans are completed and decisions all but finalized. Parents want opportunities to engage during plan development and to have a meaningful opportunity to shape decisions. 

Often, parents do not have “a seat at the table” where decisions are being made. Participants in the listening session were clear that this should and must change; parents have so much to offer but are not given the chance to lead. One participant noted, “If we just give space and opportunity [for parents] to lead the change, the transformation would be amazing.” 

Connected to this idea, the conversation also revealed that often parent leaders and parent advocates are not fairly compensated for their important work. These roles are not treated as paid staff positions, making this work unsustainable for most. 

Funders should collaborate and create opportunities for collaboration among partners 

The leaders we spoke to agreed that while parent power and voice are getting some attention from local funders, more is needed. They also encouraged foundations to collaborate more and adjust their grantmaking: simplify application processes, stop working in silos, provide equitable opportunities to apply for and receive funding, and do not force potential partners to change their plans to align to the foundation’s objectives. Encouraging collaboration among grant partners was another idea raised – creating connections between partners doing similar work and funding them to collaborate on projects and initiatives. 

Ashlee Schmidt

Provides strategic support across the program team and Opportunity Agenda, supporting planning, alignment, measurement, and collaboration across Foundation units

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